Friday, February 25, 2011

A Prayer for Friday

May your cup overfloweth, but in a moderate kind of way.

May your social interactions bump along in slightly more jovial fashion than usual.

Young ones, may you finish up that homework early, thus ensuring, as Wayne Campbell promised, a free and leisurely weekend.

May our celebrities that will be up for awards on Sunday not overdo it, lest they show up to the dance without sprite, and bags under their eyes.

May your babysitters not fail you, lest you return to a pilfered home and your children locked in the bathroom.

Friday evenings are our exhaust valves, please remember to cherish them.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wisdom on Steroids

The ever-wise David Brooks drops another bomb on our collective imagination. I believe that in this little cutie that he tossed off he single-handedly broke my self-defeating addiction to both conservative and liberal talk radio. This need to do mental battle with the blow hards (as my friend Glenn calls it, my need to incessantly tilt at windmills) will at least be temporarily retarded, if not completely eradicated.

This is taken from a little conversation that was taking place between David Brooks and Gail Collins about the whole Wisconsin Situation:

"Have I ever told you of my theory of reciprocal self-barbarization? If you engage with barbarians on the other side then one inevitably becomes barbaric. If you engage with sane people, one becomes more sane. Progress depends on enlarging the party of sanity. I can put you in touch with plenty of sane people who care both about debt and education, just not in Madison, Wisconsin, at the moment."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Comment

I may have been dealt a few bad hands, but I thank God I'm not here.

Is This The Better Way To Spend The Day?

~Sent From My Cool Phone

I Like Being Here

~Sent From My Cool Phone

Things We Shouldn't Say

Just had a good, life-giving meeting with my sister. I describe it that way because that's what it was. We named the things that scared us, that keep us from bold acts of creation. We named the fear that cripples our intuitions and imaginings. We assured each other that this fear is truly beneath us; it is a cancer and a demon and must be dispatched. I told her about things I've written that I'm not apt to share with people. I'm not apt to share them because I don't always use the right words, don't always correspond with polite mores and material that my beloved mother has deemed acceptable. My Religion tells me to be nice and respectful and inoffensive, because that's what the Good People do.

But the sad fact is that Truth can be an easy victim of the perceived bounds of polite respectability. Raw language and emotion cannot be denuded for the sake of whatever "decency" is, and therefore turned into kitsch.

Now, editing must happen, and art is not equal to the act of vomiting, but I imagine that it exists somewhere in between polished presentation and vomiting. I feel I have erred on the side of sterilization and presentability, and now I recognize that I need a little more puking in my life. Not too much, mind you, I'm no Godless Barbarian, but I've got to stop gunning for the tasty treat and attendant pat on the head.

The truth is that I'm openly courting insurrection. I held similar palaver with my brother the other day. Palaver in which vision was declared in bold fashion without respect to the limits of what's reasonable or possible. I'm raising hubbub with the captives, and the revolt against security, and therefore mediocrity, is at hand. I'm tired of trading my life for security. I'm not even good at it—I haven't really acquired much in the way of security.

So world, so life, so friends and family, so Religion, here is my security (it fits right here because, like I said, I ain't got much). Now that I've traded that in, me and Jesus have some business to do. He might not always approve of what I say, but he told me that's OK, he'll love me anyway. "We'll sort it all out when the dealings done," I think is the way he put it.

p.s. My final thought before posting this: "I probably shouldn't post this."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meet My Mistress

I don't love another in this world as much as I love my wife, but if there were a close second, and I was forced to admit it, I would say that it's philosophy, which is the love of wisdom. And I love it best when packaged in comprehensible quotations. Quotations often give shape to my life, and I wanted to share three that have been working on my soul lately:

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." --Gil Bailie

"I think we begin to be really helpful in calling forth the gifts of others when we understand & employ our own charisma, when we are functioning in freedom, when our 'oughtness' is eliminated & we can have the time of our life doing what we want to do...One of the difficulties that family life has is too much oughtness, too much demand, too much keeping the machinery going...I think all of us had best find out what we really want to do & start doing it, with whatever it involves. If you have to give up your responsibility, give it up. If the church goes to pieces, so be it. But we've got to find what we want to do, really, because nothing else is going to help anybody." --Gordon Cosby

"Let there be no mistake: Evil and injustice thrive on moral ambiguity, equivocation, confusion and the failure to commit. Remembering that injustice is the abuse of power, we must know that injustice is strong, it’s forceful, it’s committed, and in every case it will prevail against the uncertain, the unsure and the uncommitted." --Gary Houghton

OH! And here is a bonus one I just remembered that my sister sent me the other day--her recognition of its genius bodes well for her:

"He who possesses talent should also possess courage. He must dare to trust his inspiration, he must be convinced that the fancy which flashes through his brain is a healthy one, that the form which comes natural to him, even if it be a new one, has a right to assert its claims; he must have gained a hardihood to expose himself to the charge of being affected, or on the wrong path, before he can yield to his instinct and follow it wherever it may imperiously lead." --George Brandes

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Do You Take Your Media?

My grandparents had to worry about feeding themselves through the Great Depression.

My parents were just too young to have to worry about the draft, but they had to worry about The Bomb perhaps souring a nice family meal.

I deal with a fair amount of stress over which TV shows, movies and books to consume because I can't escape the fact that I won't get to all of them. I will not apologize for my bourgeois, white middle-class plight—you play the hand you're dealt and that's all you can do.

Lately the feeling has not only been, "Oh crap I'm not going to get to all of them," but also, "to what end is this all for?" I wish entertainment were the highest good, because then it would be easy. But, at least for me, it's not. I have grand designs and special fancies of somehow, someway giving back to the arts-n-media community that has so plentifully given to me. I feel that my consumption is somehow serving that blessed hope, but I have to stop and ask myself—is it?

Like all of the best questions in life it is nice and complicated. Stephen King gave the advice that "Writers need to read a lot," (I believe I'm paraphrasing) and if he's wrong then I have no compass for this world and all is lost. So to an unknown extent it is good for me to consume. What I'm realizing lately is that just because something is good (like Breaking Bad, Dostoevsky, Arcade Fire, The Onion, David Fincher, etc. etc.) it doesn't mean that I can or should consume it. There is just too much good stuff out there and believe it or not I do want room in my life for other things. but I somehow lost the part of my brain that will let me pass on cultural happenings because I feel driven to be a part of ALL OF THEM.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Celebrity is Our Curse: A Message From the Past

I know it's long, but I think it's worth it. This piece was written 34 for years ago, swap out a few names and it could have been written a week ago. Have we, as a nation, evolved in the last 30 years? Have we devolved? Is it a useful question? Do you care? This editorial was printed in The Wittenburg Door all those years ago, and it was written by a Ben Patterson:

To Be Known

Of all the analogies and images suggested to characterize modern man, the most compelling, for me, remains that of a human being riveted in front of a television set. A Philadelphia radio station recently offered 127 families $500 to stop watching the tube for just one month. Ninety-three refused outright, and one woman admitted that her husband comes home each evening and gets up from the set only twice: to eat and to go to bed.

No, I'm not going to launch another harangue against the evils of television, many as they are. Rather, I would like you to look closely at this quintessential human being glued before his appliance and ponder his life. Each day dozens of TV personalities come smiling into his living room and he knows each one. But he is never known.

Notice also his surroundings. Prominent will be a stereo hi-fi, a radio, and a telephone. He can be sung to, spoken to, and dialed by a computer. But, again, he is not known. The identity issue for him, says Rollo May, is not who am I?, but even if-I-know-who-I-am, I-have-no-significance. I can influence no one.

He will also have magazines and books to read. Once again the same people who come into his life via television, records and radio will be there. Now they can be seen in their homes and places of recreation. Their fulfillment will be merchandised as he watches them gardening in Malibu, at a disco in Manhattan, or horseback riding in the Rockies. Up close and personal, he can study their savoir faire, their style, their tastes for clothes and food. As of last months Time magazine, he will know with millions of Americans that model Cheryl Tiegs liked to read a lot when she was a girl, and played violin well enough to qualify for a city wide youth orchestra. But he himself will not be known.

No human being can tolerate this kind of numbing impotence for very long. So, blatant in our 20th century man is always the David Berkowitz, The Son-of-Sam killer, the mass murderer. If he cannot be known, he can at least strike out and shock us into feeling, into making us both feel something. But most of the time quintessential modern just sits there in dull isolation, detached from himself and those near him, his own values and theirs.

As I said earlier, it was not my purpose to attack the media but to consider this man's situation in life. Arch Bishop William Temple once remarked that when men ceased to believe in God, they do not believe in nothing, they believe in anything. Our age of fervid religiosity is one witness to that truth. Another is our preoccupation with celebrities and superstars. We locate meaning and fulfillment with those who are simple known. For the tautology of our times is that being known is to be fulfilled and have value.

When Suzanne Somers, sex star of the television series Three's Company, received her so-called People's Award she told us all how as a little girl she often starred as the Virgin Mary (hee hee) in plays produced by her parochial school. Her father would sit in the front row and exhort her to stand at the center. Well, she said, here I am Daddy, dead center. She's now valuable and worthy because she is known. Perhaps that is why Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone will be famous for five. For in our culture five minutes of fame in itself would equal significance, meaning, value and fulfillment.

Popular magazines in particular service as catechisms for the Way to this kind of fulfillment. The dominance of personality journalism is one case in point. Why else would we want to know what Cheryl Tiegs liked to do when she was in junior high or who taught John Travolta how to dance? We are intensely interested in these things because we want to know the Way. Because we too suffer from the loss of value in our lives. We must know these people and how they do get It.

Of late, it seems to be no matter if our representative modern is a Christian. He, too, is in the world and he is also in the church. There too, personality journalism is endemic to sales success and magazines, books and films. We want to know how they too did It. Why? Because of their profound spirituality? At most, only incidentally. They have the right to be interviewed, photographed and to speak authoritatively on any number of theological issues simply because they, well, er, a, are well known. To not be well known is to have nothing to say or to have nothing to say that anyone would want to hear.

I wonder if Paul would have merited Evangelical Press coverage if he were alive today. He insisted to the church at Corinth that what validated his authority to speak was, besides their own consciences, the fact that as far as the world was concerned he was an impostor, dishonorable, unknown, dying, punished, poor, and negligible. (II Corinthians 6:8 and following) Today the only one of those qualities that would prompt us to read about him would be if he were sufficiently dishonorable or an impostor to titillate our prurient interest.

The evangelical media's use of personality journalism is propaganda. It suggests that if our culture heroes—i.e. those who are heroes simply by being known—can also be Christians, then their faith, like their taste in clothes, can be part of the Way to Knowndom for us the reader and viewer. That makes it propaganda because it uncritically rides in on a cultural value to sell, what? The faith? I doubt it. Magazines, books, films? I'm certain.

More deplorable, however, is what it says to the little people buying this junk. It implicitly denies the value God gives each of us, His children. We are known, inside and out, by Him and that brings a value that record sales and photo essays have no power to give. We don't need to be known to find value. We don't need to study a celebrity's style in order to be a better Christian. We need to learn only from our Lord and His servants like Paul who preached that, among other things, Christ's death rendered irrelevant the world's preoccupation with who is at the center, whatever that center is. "From now on," He said, "we regard no one from a human point of view...If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is passed away and behold the new is come." (II Cor. 5:16, 17)

Letter to the Editor: A Real One!

In the past I have been known to publish letters to the editor of this blog; what I omitted was that those letters were written by me. It's true that my mail bag, unlike Letterman's, is virtually nonexistent. Oh, I guess I'll stop with the attempts at grandeur--I've never gotten a letter to the editor. But I did finally get one the other day, so without hesitation I will print it here below. It's true that I basically had to solicit it (as you'll see from the opening line), and he was kind enough to oblige.

It is a response to my musings on American foreign policy as it relates to the current upheaval in Egypt. Perhaps you'd like to refer back to it before pressing on. Anyway, I know that two or three of you were somewhat interested in the topic, so perhaps you'll enjoy this very thoughtful response. At the end of it, please comment on who is more right or wrong, so that I can then adjust my opinions based on majority rule/peer pressure, just like the rest of you:

Jason - I said I'd try to respond to your blog that you wanted me to "affix to my craw" - and so I'm giving it a try. But I do think that in it you are trying to be the provocateur - so I am not naive about swallowing the bait you threw out there. As provocateur, there can still be a part of you that is serious, or means seriously what you said, and I believe that is the case here. Please correct me if I'm wrong. Anyway, you always make me go through these kind of hoops when responding to things you write because of your evil propensity to toy with people. I'm never quite sure if you're serious ... but we've had this conversation before - I'm only bemoaning the effect of your humor on honest communication. You can be a lizard in this area. But I love you either way. :)

Now to the point. (I'm not really sure that I have one, but we'll see.)

Firstly, I agree with your two premises. Most Americans do want freedom and human rights to abound to everyone around the world. And our support of Mubarak for the sake of security is - to a degree - at the expense of that freedom and those human rights. But I pretty much disagree with the rest of what you asserted.

1. I don't think its hypocritical to exist within the tension of those two premises. I think it is simply the nature of life in a fallen world that our most altruistic aspirations must be compromised in order to get at least a modicum of those aspirations to come to pass. So with Egypt, we have supported a heavy-handed dictator who has abused human rights, but with the object in mind that in supporting him we have had an Egypt that has more freedom, and a vastly better human rights record than most middle eastern countries. Under Mubarak, women in Egypt can wear high heels, or not; they can wear a burkah, or not; they can have a career, or not; they can get an education, or not; they have some rights within a marriage; they can own property; etc., etc. Under the Muslim Brotherhood - the only other legitimate player in the game right now - none of those things would be true. The goal of the Brotherhood is to establish an Islamic caliphate in Egypt and impose Sharia law on the entire populace - which would result in an Afghanistan-under-al kaida-type government, or an Iran-under-Achmawhat's his face - type government ... if not worse. So for America to support the former rather than the latter is not hypocritical at all in my thinking. We are simply supporting the government that is more in line with American (not to mention Christian) values, rather the government that is hostile to those values. Would we like something better. Certainly. Should we work for something better. Yes. But it is, after all, not our country, so we can only encourage and support and cajole diplomatically what we view to be virtuous government - one that is more careful about human rights and freedom. We can't enforce it. It is therefore my view that to label us as hypocritical in our support of Mubarak is naive and kind of silly. Especially when we have the relatively recent series of events in Iran to learn from. There we supported a Mubarak-like Shah, for the same reasons. He was by far the lesser of two evils when it was a choice between him and Khomeini. And yet our beloved Jimmy Carter withdrew that support because of his "moral scruples", the Shah fell, Khomeini and his Islamic thugs took over, and we now have an Iran that is becoming one of the biggest threats to peace, security, prosperity, freedom, and human rights in the Middle East in decades. And this includes the very real threat of nuclear proliferation in a country run by a fanatical anti-Semite, and a fanatical anti American, whose eschatology includes the necessity of a nuclear type Armageddon. The present leader of Iran has a theology that demands the destruction of the West in blood and fire, in order for the Islamic version of the Millennium to come to pass. This leads me to my second point.
2. It is not morally wrong to put American interests first within this context. American interests include not only a peaceful and prosperous and secure America, but also a peaceful and prosperous and secure world where people can live self-directed and free lives, and pursue their own goals, faith, betterment, etc. Is it a selfish thing for America to want a peaceful and secure world so that America can be peaceful and secure. Yes. But it is a kind of altruistic selfishness isn't it? The kind that leads to the most freedom and prosperity for the most people. It's not morally wrong for Americans to seek their own interests if those interests include not being blown to bits by Islamic radicals, or enslaved by Sharia law. American interests as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence are interests that are for everyone's benefit.

It was in American interests to win the Cold War and defeat Soviet Communism - but those interests also redounded positively for all of Soviet-enslaved Eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire. It is in American interests to have a free and stable Iraq, Afghanistan, and Middle East in general - but co-incidentally those interests are of immense benefit to the people of the Middle East as well. Do we ever pursue our own interests to the detriment of other nations? Of course. We are certainly not perfect. But historically the case has usually been that our interaction with other nations has been for their benefit as well as ours. America has never had imperial designs. We don't gobble up nations. We don't enslave people. We usually have given our blood and treasure for our own security, but for the security of other nations as well. We have never wanted to rule Germany, Japan, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. We have simply wanted to stop aggression, and create a context for peace and freedom to develop - and at the cost of countless American lives and American dollars.

3. Therefore I don't view Americans as having "blood on our hands." Can we do better? Sure. Are we perfect? No. Have we made mistakes? Of course. But do we have "blood on our hands" - with regard to Egypt or the Middle East or anywhere else for that matter? Emphatically not. America spends hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce the spread of aids in Africa because of an initiative by George W Bush. I don't see blood on our hands. We spend more hundreds of millions on countries around the world to help feed the hungry and restore those devastated by earthquakes and tsunamis. I don't see blood on our hands. We spent millions to restore Germany and Japan after WWII - the very nations who wantonly slaughtered millions of innocent people including the flower of American and European youth, but who we forgave and rebuilt FOR FREE.

I don't see blood on our hands. Many thousands of American lives and many billions and trillions of American dollars have been sacrificed for other nations and other needs that have very little to do with American interests, but illustrate American compassion and generosity and altruism. In fact never in the history of man has there been such a nation - that has been willing to give so much, for so little in return. Did the nations of Babylon, or Egypt, or Rome, or Persia, or China, or India, or Spain, or Germany, or the Soviets, or even England? No. They all had empires to build, and coffers to fill, and people to subdue and rule over. But not so the United States of America. We have never desired to rule over another nation or people. We have only wanted to influence the world with the values we hold dear - freedom, human dignity, prosperity and peace. I don't see blood on our hands. I see a complicated and fallen world where sometimes, of necessity, the enemy of my enemy is my friend - in order that a worse fate might not befall us all.

I had more to write, but Becky says that if I say more it'll be like one of my sermons that went too long.
So, I'll end here, let you consider what I'm sayin', and shoot me some kinda response.


Monday, February 7, 2011

How to Save the Whales

Every once in awhile, if you're paying attention, you'll find that you come across nuggets of wisdom. Well I feel like this week has been more like a landslide of wisdom. I acquired two pieces in this last week, two that I think will really give shape to my life if I allow them to, and those were:

1. ABT--Always Be Thankful. Always and for everything, without condition. It is as simple as that, and not many things are harder. (Accolades go to Steve Brown and Francis Schaefer for driving these home.)

2. In the morning, it is always Leah. See Genesis 29 for what this could possibly mean. But in a nutshell, it is this: We were not created to thrive in this world as it currently exists. We were created for another world. That is why there has been a pang of disappointment or despair the moment after every great achievement you've ever made. You thought you finally got there, got the thing that would bring you ultimate joy, and it somehow eluded you. So you're off to the next thing that will complete you, sure to get it right this time--this is life on the treadmill.

What I love about these is that they are nothing new to me. I've known these things for a long time, but I see them anew, and see the change that they could make in my life. This brings up the question, if you're not applying the knowledge that you have, do you really have it? On paper you do, of course you do, but is it of any value? Anyway, here is number three, that I just came by today. It is a quote from Jeff Overstreet, overheard on a random podcast I was listening to:

3. "If you care about the whales, it’s a whole lot more effective not to picket about saving the whales, but to take people whale watching. If you want to show people what is good, stop ranting about what is mediocre, show people what is good…introduce them to what is best, rather than what is merely entertaining."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Limits of Morality

A few days ago in a landmark Tweet I stated that after only reading five pages, "Between Noon and Three" would be a life changing book for me. True to inclincation, I found this gem on page 28, which I now submit for your approval and subsequent pondering:

"Morality helps most when it has the least to object to. If it is a guide at all, it is a guide to the perfecting of one's virtues, not to the reform of one's vices. It keeps non-gamblers from being foolish at the racetrack. It does not keep child abusers from beating children, compulsive liars from lying, or lechers from leching. For those in the front trenches of their faults, it is just a lovely, cruel vision of a home they cannot get to. Life, at their extremity, is luck or lumps. The law only makes sin exceeding sinful; it never saved anybody who really needed help."